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Australian fires almost under control

AUSTRALIAN firefighters are close to containing bushfires that killed at least 181 people, officials said yesterday, while police allowed one of the worst-hit communities a brief visit to their devastated town.

About a dozen fires were still burning in the state of Victoria and it would take at least two weeks to completely extinguish them, said Stuart Ord of the state's Emergency Coordination Center.

"Throughout the day there has been a lot of work done on putting in containment lines and that has involved a reasonable amount of backburning," Ord said, referring to the lighting of controlled fires.

In Marysville, which was razed to the ground when the fires peaked last weekend, police escorted residents back for a glimpse of the town.

Police said more than 200 of the town's former population of several hundred made the trip, but some deliberately stayed away. Resident Simon Hudson described the town as "just complete devastation except for 10 or so houses."

Authorities have said up to 100 people may be dead in Marysville, a once-picturesque community northeast of Melbourne. The town is now officially a crime scene.


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